What is BURNING MAN
Burning Man is the third largest city in Nevada that appears for one week in the desert. To different people it is different things. For some it is a giant party. For others it is a chance to experiment with radical art. For others it is a chance to enjoy a new kind of community that is not available in the default world. Burning Man is many different things to many different people.
What I tell most people is that... if you want to find something at Burning Man... you will find it; and much more.
The following article will tell you almost everything you need to know about the Burning Man experience. Since it This can't be an exhaustive explanation. The reader should bear in mind that there will always be something that is not included here.
The Physical Layout
- Radical Inclusion
- Radical Self-Reliance
- Radical Self-Expression
- Communal Effort
- Civic Responsibility
- Leaving No Trace
On The Matter of Moop
On the Matter of Poop
Death and Injury
Minors at Burning Man
Burning Man for the Handicapped
Burning Man for the Medicated
Emergencies On and Off the Playa
Safety on the Playa
The Burning Man Ranch
Burning Man Public Relations
The Yahoo/Frat Boy Factor
How to get more information
One of the most unique things about Burning Man is the environment in which it takes place. Currently, the Burning Man gathering is held in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada near the town of Gerlach. (Population: 600)
Quoting from Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Rock_Desert) "The Black Rock Desert is a dry lake bed in northwestern Nevada in the United States. Considered one of the flattest surfaces on the earth, the desert is part of the extended playa of the lake bed of prehistoric Lake Lahontan, which existed between 18,000 and 7,000 BC during the last ice age. During the lake's peak around 12,700 years ago, the desert floor was under approximately 500 feet (150m) of water."
It is a large, flat, dry lake bed. You've seen it in plenty of car commercials, but never known what it was. It's been used as an area to set land speed records because of it's length and it's flatness. The remoteness of this desert allows rocketeers to test hobby rockets to a ceiling of 100,000 feet. It is dry during Burning Man, but at other times of the year you will find a lake on the Playa. The lake is not mapped anywhere because the wind can move it around. (A good reason not to camp next to the "shore")
During the time that Burning Man is happening the weather can vary from pleasant to unpleasant. Like any desert it can be hot during the day, and very cold at night. It's a "high" desert so the heat is not unbearable, as long as there is a shade structure. At night it can vary from pleasantly warm to pretty darn cold. It can also rain. I've yet to experience significant rain on the Playa any year I have been there, but I hear it gets muddy fast. And the mud is sticky - to this I can attest.
Rather than rain you are more likely to experience dust in the Black Rock Desert. The ground is a dry lake bed. The background of most of the pages at this site is what the ground looks like. As vehicles drive over this; as people walk on it; it breaks up into a fine dust that the wind can easily pick up. This dust will hang in the air and look like snow in flash pictures taken at night. You will be covered in it. Veteran Burner's look forward to the dust as a sign that they are really home.
Of course, when the wind picks up, the dust picks up. You can experience a white or brown out where the dust is so thick you cannot see 15 feet in front of you. You lose all sense of direction, and simply have to wait it out. This is why you will see many people with dust masks or bandana's; this is necessary equipment for wanderers at Burning Man.
The Black Rock Desert is in a remote area of Nevada. There is NO cellular service out there. There is NO electricity out there. There is NO water out there (at least during the time that Burning Man is running - there can be a lake at other times of the year.) There is almost no RADIO out there... the population of that area of Nevada does not get much in the way of commercial radio.
The Physical Layout
Burning Man is also known as Black Rock City; named for the Black Rock desert in which it takes place. It is the 5th largest city in Nevada while it is populated. It has many of the same features of your more common city, including, named streets, public services, sanitation facilities, and even a Department of Public Works and a Power Department.
Prior to the event, the DPW folk show up in the desert and start laying out the city plan. Everything starts from the location of The Man; he will be the literal center of the city. Once the location of the man is selected, the street plan for the entire city is laid out. The town is laid out in the shape of a giant letter "C" with the man in the center of the "C". The "C" is quite thick and has "streets" laid out within that follow the shape of the "C". These are named according to the THEME of the year. The streets are named Alphabetically, except for the inner most street being called the ESPLANADE. Going inward you can think of them as; Esplanade, A, B, C, D , E, F, G, and H.
These circular streets would be useless without cross streets. These are laid out according to the as if they were times on a clock. Due north of the man is the open end of the "C". Due south of the man is 6:00, and is the location of CENTER CAMP. At 3:00 and 9:00 are also large theme camps and public service camps.
A map of the Black Rock City for 2003 can be seen here. To see what Black Rock City looks like from the air click here
The street that runs around the inside perimeter of the "C" is called "The Esplanade". Along the Esplanade at 3:00, 6:00 and 9:00 are open plaza's that cut into the "C". The ones at 3:00 and 9:00 are smaller open areas, where you will find smaller off shots of various city services (medical tents, and ranger stations). The plaza at 6:00, due south of the Man contains "Center Camp"
CENTER CAMP is a giant circular tent that is one of the main gathering place of Burning Man. In it you will find the cafe, where you can purchase, coffee, lemonade, or chai tea. It also has several stages for various performances, and a central area where, at any time of the day or night one might find any kind of entertainment happening.
Around Center Camp is the RING ROAD. Around the ring road you will find several city service organizations run by volunteers. These include:
The Medical Tent: 24/7 Medical Emergency help.
Camp Arctic: Where you can buy ice.
Playa Info: the Burning Man information Booth.
The Artery: the people who place and assist the artists at Burning Man.
PED-EX: the Burning Man post office where you can send and receive mail.
LAMP LIGHTERS: the people who carry the lamps out to light the main streets at night.
As well as the outline of the city, the DPW also lays out the entry ways, from the highway, onto the desert, through the greeters station, and into the city.
The greeters area consists of several parts. There is the ticket booth, where tickets can be purchased or picked up at WILLCALL. There is the inspection area, where vehicles entering Burning Man are checked for stowaways. And there is the greeters area where everyone entering Burning Man is greeted with maps, a WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, hugs, and directions to camp if needed.
The DPW also lays out the area for the airport. Yes, Burning Man has it's own airport manned, again, by volunteers.
Finally, the entire city is surrounded by a trash fence designed to catch anything that the wind is carrying along. Many people never even see the trash fence, but it's out there, surrounding the entire city in a pentagon shape. In the distance it looks like an orange line on the horizon.
Within the city there are areas reserved for theme camps, utilities, and porto-potties.
Theme camp areas are set aside for the use of theme camps. Theme camps are supposed to submit plans for how they are to be laid out, but layouts are not enforced by the BMORG. Street encroachment is not allowed, but other than that, your area is your area to do with what you please.
Utilities are largely in an area south of Center Camp. Here you will find power generators that run the lights at Center Camp, the Medical Tent, and other utilities.
The lines of Porto-Potties can be found within the city located within walking distance of almost anywhere.
Burning Man is based on a set of philosophical principles that make the event what it is, and make it unique compared to other large public gatherings. All the participants at Burning Man are expected to have some idea of the the thoughts behind it.. to help make it what it is. The following is quoted right off the Burning Man web site (http://www.burningman.com).
1. Radical Inclusion
Anyone may be a part of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community.
Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift giving. The value of a gift is unconditional. Gifting does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value.
In order to preserve the spirit of gifting, our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. We stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation. We resist the substitution of consumption for participatory experience.
4. Radical Self-reliance
Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources.
5. Radical Self-expression
Radical self-expression arises from the unique gifts of the individual. No one other than the individual or a collaborating group can determine its content. It is offered as a gift to others. In this spirit, the giver should respect the rights and liberties of the recipient.
6. Communal Effort
Our community values creative cooperation and collaboration. We strive to produce, promote and protect social networks, public spaces, works of art, and methods of communication that support such interaction.
7. Civic Responsibility
We value civil society. Community members who organize events should assume responsibility for public welfare and endeavor to communicate civic responsibilities to participants. They must also assume responsibility for conducting events in accordance with local, state and federal laws.
8. Leaving No Trace
Our community respects the environment. We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather. We clean up after ourselves and endeavor, whenever possible, to leave such places in a better state than when we found them.
Our community is committed to a radically participatory ethic. We believe that transformative change, whether in the individual or in society, can occur only through the medium of deeply personal participation. We achieve being through doing. Everyone is invited to work. Everyone is invited to play. We make the world real through actions that open the heart.
Immediate experience is, in many ways, the most important touchstone of value in our culture. We seek to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves, the reality of those around us, participation in society, and contact with a natural world exceeding human powers. No idea can substitute for this experience."
These 10 principle have interesting results that are reflected in the experience of Burning Man. These will become obvious as more is explained.
On the matter of Moop
In particular, the LEAVE NO TRACE, ethos requires a discussion of the term MOOP. MOOP stands for Matter Out Of Place - and refers to anything in the desert that wasn't there before Burning Man arrived. Moop is everything you brought with you. In theory, everything you brought with you should also leave with you. If you do that perfectly, then, in theory, you are leaving no trace.
But moop can sometimes take sneaky forms. Your vehicle may leak on the playa - leaving an oil stain. You may drop food on the playa without even knowing it. Part of a costume can fall off (hence the absolute prohibition on feather boas). Your bike might lose a light, or part of a reflector (depending on how hard you drop it). Matter can get away from you, and when it does, it's MOOP.
Too much Moop, and Burning Man comes to an end. The BLM is tasked with preserving the various environments that come under it's jurisdiction. If Burning Man were to leave a trash covered desert then the BLM would be within it's rights to prohibit the event from happening.
So Moop is a big concern for everyone at Burning Man. Tips are offered in the Survival Guide on how to avoid creating it. Read them.
On the Matter of POOP
POOP is exactly what you and your 2 year old think it is. A big deal is made about POOP because it is the only sub-class of MOOP that you are not personally expected to take back with you. Porto-Potties are provided. What you ARE expected to know is that the only things you can put into the Porto-potties are substances that come out of your body, and 1 ply toilet paper. No tampons, sanitary napkins, wet-naps, diapers, or 2 ply toilet paper.
Now, the BLM does not care what goes into the toilets, but the Porto-Pottie contractor does, and he can shut down Burning Man as fast, or faster than the BLM should he decide that the Porto's are being abused. Don't abuse them. If you feel an absolute need to throw those old sneakers into the Porto-pottie, then you MUST eat them first.
One of the organizing principles of Burning Man is radical self-reliance. You are expected to bring everything you need to survive a week in the desert. This does not mean, however, that absolutely nothing is available there. There are some basic city services that you can find if you need them.
Things For Sale
Yes, it is a very short list. At Burning Man you will not find food vendors, souvenirs, t-shirt sales men, or any of the other myriad of things that appear at other commercial venues. Two parts of the Burning Man philosophy come together to make this happen - radical self-reliance and decommodification - means that you need to bring what you need to survive. Burning Man is not going to provide for you.
Coffee, Chai tea, Lemonade are available 24/7 at the cafe in Center Camp. The people who run the cafe are volunteers, which means the service can sometimes be an experience. One time the counter folk were doing a survey of the most unusual places people have ever had sex (not something that might happen to you in Starbucks). Um... I won. This also means that they are under no obligation to serve you at all... so no bitching.
ICE is available on the ring road around Center Camp at Camp Arctic. This is NOT open 24/7 so plan to get your ice during the day. Why sell ice? Because it's the one thing you can't bring from home and hope to have last a week. The ice is in blocks or bags; reasonably priced; and again, manned by volunteers. Proceeds from the sale of ice are donated to the local school districts around Gerlach Nevada. This is a not-for-profit; community building; public relations service of Burning Man to the community in which the event takes place.
Things For Free
(or at least included in the price of the ticket)
You will find the following services provided directly by BMORG and paid for via the price of your ticket.
The Burning Man organization provides Porto-Potties for the elimination of Human waste. These are serviced daily by the brave crews who drive out to suck out the contents; wash out the Porto's, and fill the toilet paper holders. It is extremely important that nothing but human waste and 1 ply toilet paper ever go into the Porto's. If the service company stops servicing, Burning Man will be over very fast.
Porto Potties are located within the city on about the end of the blocks of E street. So, for example, if you find yourself at 8:30 and Daffy, you are within one block of a row of Porto-potties.
Again, as stated before, the ONLY thing that can go into the Porto-potties is human waste and 1 ply toilet paper. No Tampons, sanitary napkins, wet naps, diapers, dead pet goldfish, kitty litter, or used tires. Vomit is okay since it came out of you, the only problem being that if you do stick your head in to vomit, you may vomit much more than you initially intended.
Also, something I learned int 2015 - The porto service guy camp outside the city in their own village. There they transfer waste from the smaller trucks to these huge trucks for off-playa transport. Yes, they live at Burning Man too. And, they are allowed, when not working, to come into the city and party with the rest of us. They do, however, have a midnight curfew. I can't imagine how bad it would be to have to clean out porto-potties with a hang-over. (See note about vomiting in the Porto-Potties above.)
These guys are probably the most important people when it comes to making our city run. Treat em with respect and schwag!!!
The Burning Man organizations provides space and equipment for medical problems ranging from minor dehydration to emergency medical transport. The main medical tent is located next to Center Camp. There are also smaller medical facilities at the 3:00 and 9:00 plaza's. At these locations volunteers with medical training act as staff to help injured and ailing burners recover, or help forward those burners on to full hospital facilities in Reno, NV.
Emergency Medical evacuation is accomplished by helicopter. It's never a good sound to hear the helicopter arrive and take off. The area for the emergency helicopter to land and take off is separate from the airport, and is laid out on the outskirts of the city.
An ambulance is also available for transport on the playa.
The Center Camp facilities are put up by the Burning Man organization. This is one of the few structures actually built by the organization. Other structures include "non-public" areas (such as power generation) and pseudo-public areas like Camp Arctic, Playa Info, Medical Tent, etc. The Center Camp tent covers a large area and contains 3 stages (I consider the central area a stage), the Cafe, and seating for hundreds. Center Camp is the cities communal gathering space, open to all at all times.
At Center Camp you will find plenty of sitting space. Benches and couches are scattered around. The benches can be re-painted and re-used, but the couches are kaput after sitting in the dust all week. I do not know for sure if the couches are re-cycled or trashed... but they sure never end up in Better Homes and Gardens.
The BMORG builds and sets up the MAN, the central icon of the gathering. The man is made from wood, lit with neon, packed with fireworks, and stands about 40 feet tall himself, not including any building on which he may be standing.
Also, with the man are the fireworks that go off before, or while, he burns. It's a good show, and included in the ticket price.
The Burning Man organization provides for the safety of burners on site in several ways. By organizing fire safety for the various large burns - professional fire fighters and EMT's are on site when the large week end burns occur. Fire safety professionals oversee the burn itself, as well as any fireworks setup ahead of time.
The BMORG negotiates with local law enforcement to provide law enforcement capabilities within Black Rock City. Many people think this is not necessary, but assaults have taken place and it's nice to be able to call the police. BMORG works closely with two local law enforcement agencies since the Burning Man site straddles two counties. NOTE: If someone is to be ejected from Burning Man, it will be done by Burning Man Rangers, and not law enforcement. This was a sticking point in negotiations in the past with law enforcement, but Burning Man wants to be able to control the Burning Man population. Course, if someone refuses to leave....
It is important to note that all laws are still in effect at Burning Man. Citations and arrests will be made for illegal substances and lewd behavior. Nudity is not normally considered lewd - however, there are exceptions. If your child is nude, law enforcement may ask you to cover them up as pictures of your child could be considered child pornography. This actually happened to a couple I know who's four year old was nude on the playa. They threatened them with Child Protective Services and they complied. (Typical law enforcement. If you don't comply to an illegal request on their part they start to threaten you. See the section on how to deal with law enforcment. To note: A nude picture of a child is not automatically child pornography - if it were then millions of parents would be in violation of the law. Also, on federal land there is no law against nudity in general. The cops don't really care about the law. They just want to make trouble for people based on their opinion of what is right and wrong and not what is legal and what is illegal. This year, 2015, the sheriff of Pershing County, announced in advance that he was going to be a hard ass. His reason; He didn't think his office was paid enough to provide service to the city. It boils down to money, and this ass didn't think he was getting enough. So he and his officers decided to be assholes. Proof that its not about the law, but about the money. So much for my rant.)
The law enforcement agencies present at Burning Man include:
Legal Assitance for Burners
Should you ever get stopped by law enforcement at Burning Man, and end up under arrest or with a citation, there is a group out there specifically to help Burners. It is called LAWYERS FOR BURNERS and their webpage can be accessed HERE. They are well aware of what Burning Man is, how law enforcement operates there, and what sorts of legal situations can arise on the playa. I highly recommend that you visit this webpage, as it is updated yearly and has current advice for what is going on both on and off the playa.
BLM Permit Costs
The Bureau of Land Management is responsible for issuing the permit for Burning Man to take place on public land. This federal department conducts inspections of the site at several times during the year to be sure that Burning Man is not impacting the environment via trash or other pollutants (e.g. chemical/grey water stains, burn scars, etc.). The Leave No Trace ethos is very important in maintaining our good relations with the BLM.
The BLM also charges a fee per person/per day for everyone at Burning Man. In 2005 for example, the BMORG paid the BLM $710,404. This is one of the reasons that cars are checked for stowaways, and the population of Black Rock City counted very carefully. The fee averages out to about $7.00 per person per day, and is included in the price of your ticket.
The BLM also sends representatives to attend Burning Man. These representatives will explain to anyone the job of the BLM, and issue citations for irresponsible behavior that damages the playa. This person's tent can be found one the Esplanade close to Center Camp.
Part of the infrastructure of the city that is set up before anyone arrives are posts for street lanterns. That's right, LANTERNS. There is no power for most of the city, but certain streets are lit at night by hanging lanterns. A group of volunteers makes the nightly pilgrimage to all these posts to hang lit oil lamps on them to mark the streets. The Esplanade is marked this way. So is a straight line street that runs from the Man to Center Camp. Straight line streets from the Man to both 3:00 and 9:00 are also marked. The Plaza's at 3:00 and 9:00 are marked as well.
What, Where, When
When you arrive at the greeter's station coming into Burning Man, you will receive something called the WHAT, WHERE, WHEN that details many of the events that will occur in the city throughout the week. This is compiled before the event, and comes from the various camps sending in the things they want included. Burning Man takes no responsibility for the descriptions or the scheduling. It's the menu of Burning Man.
The BMORG runs a shuttle service from BRC to the nearby town of Gerlach (about 11 miles away) There are charges for this service above and beyond the cost of the ticket. You will need your ticket stub to use this bus as well.
Since the streets are walked on, driven on, and biked on, they tend to pulverize into a very fine dust very quickly. Periodically a Dust Abatement water truck will pass by spraying water down to try and re-coagulate some of that dust. The water sprayed from these trucks is non-potable - meaning, you should not drink it. There's nothing to prevent you from running after the truck and trying to grab a quick shower, however. Many people do this to get clean, or to cool off. It is shocking cold water.
The trash fence is a long orange plastic fence that surrounds all of Burning Man. On the inside it is Black Rock City. On the outside it is a vast empty plain. Though installed by volunteers of the DPW, the trash fence is required by the BLM for the BMORG permit, and is provided for that purpose.
Yep, like any real town, Black Rock City has street signs at all the intersections. If you are ever lost you can go to an intersection and know exactly where you aren't; and hopefully where you are.
Course, this only applies while Burning Man is a going operation. Once the Man burns, the street signs have a tendency to disappear mysteriously. I believe that they become remembrances of someone's great time.
Everyone who purchases a ticket(s) to Burning Man will receive in the mail a copy of the Burning Man Survival Guide. This is packed with useful information regarding how to get by at Burning Man. Sections on Moop, Weather, Environment, Rules are all included. It's a good idea to read it. If you want to read one from years past click here.
Things provided by volunteers
and supported by BMORG
Black Rock City Rangers
The Black Rock City Rangers are the LEO's of Burning Man. They will enforce the few regulations that Burning Man does have (like licensing of art vehicles), but they are under no obligation to do this like other law enforcement. If they see someone doing something stupid with a vehicle, they might just chain it to something immovable. They won't issue you a citation. They will just make sure it doesn't happen again.
The real job of the Rangers is to smooth things over, and help with crowd control. Physical intervention in any situation is a last resort. They are more likely to talk than to react like normal police. But, they have the power of real police, including the power to evict you if they feel it's necessary.
Near to Center Camp you will find a place called Playa Info. This is the information booth of Burning Man. Manned during the day by people called Oracles, who will answer any question you have. Where can I get the bus to Gerlach? Where can I get and RV pump out? My <item> is missing, where can I find it? How do I find my friend <so and so>?
You ask the question, they might have the answer. Or, might tell you how to get the answer yourself. One way or the other, you will get a response that has a good chance of being helpful. (ex. Question: "Where can I throw this cup away?" Answer: "You have a trash can in your kitchen at home? That's a good place." .. a real question and answer...)
Other than people to answer questions, Playa Info contains open bulletin boards where people can post whatever they want... messages to other people... ads for events... etc. These become pretty chaotic pretty quick.
A better place to look for information is the PC network that Playa Info sets up. Several stations are available where you can enter information about yourself, your camp, your project, or your event. Other people can then search this database via a number of key words. If you want to hook up with someone at Burning Man, setting up a meeting via this database is your best chance of doing that.
The other thing you will find at Playa Info, is Wi-Fi access to the Internet. In the Playa Info tent you will find a number of couches and people typing away on laptops. The people who provide this open wireless network make no claims, or promises about how far out the network will reach, but you might be able to pick it up in your tent as I did one year at 7:30 and Eager.
Volunteers at Burning Man run a radio Station - the Voice of Burning Man. Good to have on Exodus; they will keep you informed of events, and how long the line is to get out of Burning Man.
Department of Mutant Vehicles
This organization of people is responsible for inspecting and licensing so-called "art cars". The inspection makes sure that the vehicles are safe, and thematic. If the vehicle contains any sort of flame-thrower, the a pyrotechnics specialist will inspect the mechanism.
Once, BRC was a two paper town. I'm not sure what the future will bring, there may be 2 daily papers.. or 1... but I'm pretty sure it won't be less than 1. The first is the Black Rock City Gazette. The other is called PISS CLEAR. These will contain articles about events at the event, and are passed around the city when they arrive. You can also find them at:
The Media Mecca volunteers handle requests from the Press, and people who might want to make commercial use of images from Burning Man. Every year the press covers Burning Man, and the Media Mecca keeps track of the press. They maintain a location near Center Camp on the ring road. Questions about using images or video should be directed to them.
There have been video's made at Burning Man that are available for sale to the public. These were all made under the watchful eye of the BMORG.
The folks who run the Artery assist the various artist who come to Burning Man with things to display. Each year BMORG sponsors various art installations, and subsidizes these with funds drawn from ticket sales. But there are many artists who create works on their own, or with a group, that are not BMORG sponsored. These artists go to the Artery for placement on the playa. Normally, the volunteers at the Artery has most things mapped out ahead of time, but there is always the last minute thing that needs just the right place on the playa.
The Artery also maintains a map of where everything is placed, so that you can look up where that strange sculpture you heard so much about is located.
Yes, Black Rock City has a post office. This is not a United States of America post office. Instead it is a group of volunteers who will accept mail to be taken into town for shipping, and pick up mail that is addressed to residents of Burning Man.
You can receive mail while you are at Burning Man. The format of the address would look something like this:
Your Friend or Enemy
Their Camp Name
Gerlach, NV 89412
An actual address might look like this:
7:30 and Eager
Gerlach, NV 89412